By Ben Johnston
Bear with me for a second while we head out of the classroom and back to the early 1940s—to the middle of WWII.
Many of the allied planes returned from German bombing runs full of bullet holes. The top commanders of the day looked at the data and reasoned that the areas with the most holes should be reinforced. They recommended that armor be added to these areas.
This seemed logical given the available data—those were the areas hit the most.
When statistician Abraham Wald looked at the problem, he made the opposite recommendation as the commanders.
He recommended reinforcing the areas with fewer holes.
How can Wald and the commanders have opposite opinions? Wald’s insight was that the data set was taken from the planes that survived. What about the missing data from planes that didn’t return. Wald knew those planes likely had more holes in the opposite areas as the surviving planes.
It seemed obvious to everyone once they knew the answer.
Most reading assessments are like this—they show what’s obvious—the holes.
Like Wald, Shellie Parr went beyond the obvious. Ms. Parr is an elementary school teacher at Indian Creek Intermediate School in Indiana. The school was part a PATINS Project outreach to use uPAR (Universal Protocol for Accommodations in Reading) to find data not revealed by their reading assessment.
Looking at the data, one of Ms. Parr’s students stood out in particular.
They had tried everything. Kayle’s mom regularly traveled four hours round-trip to receive specialized reading intervention for Kayle.
In 3rd grade, Kayle’s STAR assessment showed that her reading performance was “comparable to that of an average 1st grader.” It recommended that Kayle “would be best served by instructional materials prepared at the pre-kindergarten level.”
uPAR brought a different perspective. It was true that Kayle was reading at a 1st grade level and likely needed reading intervention, but uPAR also showed showed that Kayle could comprehend content beyond her grade level with a reading accommodation.
Knowing this, Ms. Parr gave Kayle a text reader accommodation to access grade-level content in addition to the specialized reading intervention Kayle received.
She was more confident and participated in class because with her text reader she had access to the same content as everyone else. Kayle’s parents noticed that she was now reading at home for fun.
It would have been as effective as taking the first recommendations of the WWII commanders—to only consider what was directly in front of their eyes.Let’s imagine the scenario if Kayle’s educators had ended their investigation with the recommendations from the STAR assessment. Kayle would have spent third grade with pre-kindergarten instructional content.
Even with the best data available, the military commanders made the wrong recommendation. Schools today have mountains of data, but it takes new thinking to make a difference.
Kayle is entering the 4th grade with a new understanding of what she needs to comprehend. She’s on a new trajectory all because of a teacher who thought beyond the obvious, and uPAR finding the missing data. It seems obvious now that we know the answer.
Do you have students who are not responding to intervention? It may be time to think beyond the holes with uPAR.
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